How to Do Nothing
November 9, 2019 5:33 PM - by Jenny Odell - Subscribe

A galvanizing critique of the forces vying for our attention—and our personal information—that redefines what we think of as productivity, reconnects us with the environment, and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about ourselves and our world. Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity... doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance.

Odell talks about:
- An ethics of care and maintenance (counterposed to the valorisation of 'innovation' and 'disruption')
- The artist as a person who 'holds open a contemplative space against the pressures of habit and familiarity that constantly threaten to close it'
- Attention as the thing that enables you to discover that what you thought was one thing is actually two things, 'and each of those two things is actually ten things'
- Immersion in place as the antidote to anxiety and alienation: 'It turns out that groundedness requires actual groundedness, in the ground.'

This transcript of a 2017 talk by Odell gives a lot of the key ideas, plus images of some of the things that are described in the book.
posted by trotzdem_kunst (4 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed the original talk and how she deepened and elaborated the topics in the book. I’ve got to go back over my highlights to reinforce the ideas.

I also found her interview on the Ezra Klein Show this year to be excellent.
posted by brism at 6:01 AM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I loved this book and can honestly say it changed my life.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:47 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Me too, tofu_crouton! I find parts of the argument popping back into my head every day. Particularly the bit where she says, look, we've actually all noticed this, in fact we're talking about it all the time, we all joke about how we're watching Netflix while reading MetaFilter in another window and how we never just sink into a book anymore, but we need to talk about it analytically and seriously. How is it changing the qualitative experience of our lives? Why is it worth resisting? How can we resist it?
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 2:15 PM on November 12, 2019

I think a lot of people might pick it up and read the back and lump it in with all of the "give up Facebook" Medium posts out there. This work is completely different. It's not about giving up Facebook as much as reengaging with other things, like the unique quirks of your neighborhood. It's about developing an ethic of care and maintenance for the things already around you. It's also only one of two similar books I've read that doesn't frame these tactics as a way to be more productive.

The other is Alan Jacobs' book about reading.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:33 AM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

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